A vibrant, gem of the desert is the only way artist Cynthia Ann Swan can be described. With a warm, welcoming smile and purple hair, Swan invited us into her art studio, which is located on her property in Lancaster, CA.
Swan considers herself to be a modern abstract impressionist, with a love of Van Gogh. She has converted a former church on her property into an art studio.
However, anyone is welcome to schedule a kiln formed glass class for themselves, or up to a group of 10 individuals at her art studio. Swan and her husband, John, work in tandem as a true team to manage her exhibitions and studio, and their love is potent and found in the artworks themselves. Cynthia Ann Swan has exhibited extensively in Los Angeles, New York, Santa Fe, Quartz Hill, Tehachapi, Palmdale, San Francisco, and Santa Fe, among other cities and localities.
Graciously, Cynthia Ann Swan carved out time to discuss her as an artist, her work, her studio, and her first solo exhibition which opened in DTLA at the Gloria Delson Contemporary Arts gallery (GDCA).
What is your relationship to the art world?
Honestly, I left this question for the last, and even returning to it now has felt difficult. It’s the “art world” part, for I’m not sure what the “art world” really is. As late as ten years ago, I would have identified that term to mean the serious, formal art world inhabited by galleries, collectors, art critics, and recognized or emerging artists that are showing in flagship venues and gracing the covers of art magazines. That was the world apart from mine, having not been “launched” to fame upon completing my M.F.A. in 1990, and instead teaching art and music K-12 in five states for a total of 27 years. I knew those people, had worked beside many of them. Still, no one knew me. I was proud of the difference I had made as an art educator, but felt I had failed as an artist. Like I said, that, was not my world.
Things change. People change. I’ve changed. It’s been 11 years since I left teaching, earning the freedom to just “be an artist.” I’ve come a long way since then, completed and exhibiting seven full fine art collections, and working on another currently. I am still not “famous.” I am still not gracing the cover of glossy art magazines. The difference is, I no longer feel outside of the “art world,” because I have re-defined the term as it applies to myself.
My art world consists of my own, glorious 1000 sq.ft glass studio, my husband who I have trained to work with me, our “give back” company, Swan Song Memorials, where we make living and crematory glass memorials for people and pets for clients that otherwise could not afford to elevate their loving memories of those they have lost into art. My art world is my local community, who see my work at local festivals, take classes in my studio, shop for one-of-a-kind handmade glass gift treasures in our gift gallery. My art world extends every time I meet a new artist either virtually or online, every time I make a new piece or commission. And I do show in a flagship gallery, the GDCA (Gloria Delson Contemporary Arts) gallery, right here in LA. But unlike my famous friends, I have not had to make fish for 30 years. No one tells me what kind of art I have to make, or how much, or when. I am respected as I am, my changes are celebrated. I’m meeting wonderful artists that feel the same way, free and supported, and I’m fine with that.
How did you first become interested in the arts?
First, thank you for asking about “the arts,” plural, as I define art with a capital “A” to be an inclusive genre of visual art, music, dance, poetry, etc. I have loved art since my early childhood. I could be content for hours just coloring. I could sing the entire nation anthem when I was four, and dreamed of being a ballerina. I began drawing and painting in kindergarten, sculpted my first clay horse in first grade (along with all the obligatory ashtrays for mom (hey, it was the 50s), and started the violin in 3rd grade. I wrote my first poem in fourth grade for a contest in school, and sang in any choir I could find. My heroes were my elementary music teacher and art teacher.
As an artist yourself, what medium do you work with, and how would you describe your art vision?
My primary visual art medium is kiln formed glass, which is glass that is shaped by heat using a kiln. I consider myself to be a Modern Abstract Impressionist. Modern, because I am always pushing the limits of glass, forging new processes and techniques, crossing art boundaries by incorporating materials and tools used in other industries and creative applications, and adapting them for inclusion with my glass. Abstract, because in most of my work, I start with a concept that is personal for me (art should originate in your own soul), strive to find the essence of the idea or subject I am depicting, then “push” that through what I call a universalizing filter, removing the subjective elements unique to me. What’s left is the purity of the idea, free of prejudice, and ready to be re-colored by the viewer’s personal palette of experience. Finally, Impressionist, because above all, my art is infused with the feeling of the moment, the part of the perception that remains in the heart and the memory long after the moment has past.
What do you hope your art conveys?
If I could choose only one word to answer this question, it would have to be Peace. My art celebrates nature and the beauty that is always around us, by often overshadowed by the challenges and stress of our daily lives. Many arts find their niche in taking on social injustice, anger, and empowerment. I do not feel called to that purpose, though I totally support the arts that are. We need their voices to bring issues to attention. Instead, I hope my art can provide a moment of respite in the fight, in the storm, If only for a brief moment, a blanket of light.
What would be your dream project?
My dream project would involve finding a corporate sponsor to erect a permanent installation (preferably in a sheltered, outdoor venue) of the collection I call Release. It is part of my doctoral thesis work, re-imagined and re-worked, resulting in life-scale sculptural images of glass and metal depicting human struggle, panic, and depression, and the release for our conflict being love and grace.
What do you hope visitors get from visiting your gallery?
On a practical level, most people do not know what kiln formed glass is, so I hope they will have learned more about my medium and the processes I employ after seeing my work. Culturally, I would like to thing that accessing my work will help the average person not comfortable with fine art in a gallery setting will feel welcome and less intimidated by art. Spiritually, I want to add a little glory to their day.
What project or exhibition has been particularly challenging, and how did you overcome this?
My most challenging exhibition was my “Autumn Muse” solo show in 2015, in the Fine Arts Building in downtown LA. The two main obstacles wee time and the historical registry designation of the venue. I was called upon to take on this show after another artist needed to bow out just a few weeks before the show was to mount. This venue is an amazing architectural setting, protected from alteration by the historic registry. The exhibits are held in the main lobby, lined by finely crafted cabinetry exhibition compartments, marble, gold, and intricately carved wood. Artists are booked two years in advance in order to prepare for showing in this site. Prior shows had featured paintings, lightweight and easily mounted. My glass is heavy. The restrictions included not being able to drill into the wood, or in any way alter to compartments. I did find a way, but it was a major undertaking to do so. In the end, it was a great show.
How has the pandemic influenced/impacted your gallery?
In the “before times,” before COVID, we were making steady progress to advertise our studio with open houses, sales, events, etc. COVID interrupted our efforts, and shut us down from public interaction, just like everyone else. Now, we find ourselves re-starting our publicity but moving in a new direction. The down time allowed me to build our studio website, www.caswanartstudios.com, incorporating an online gallery gift shop. Instead of using my time and energy to make pieces for our gallery gift shop, I turned to starting a new fine art collection, “Tapestries,” the new collection since 2019, the “V” Collection. COVID also closed the gallery in Palmdale which was set to host my work as a solo show every year, which led me to re-establishing my connections with the Gloria Delson Contemporary Arts gallery in L.A. I had shown six complete collections in their former gallery space before we moved up here to the Antelope Valley in 2015. As of now, I have had two solo shows this year in their new gallery location, including the current solo show now, “Déjà vu.” I am looking forward to showing my new collection there when it is completed.
Anything else you would like to share?
Everything that has happened in my life has prepared me for being in the place I am in today. Even the “bad” things, or perhaps, especially those times, as I learned the most from them. My mentor, Boyce Lundstrom, the guru of kiln formed glass, told me “There are no mistakes, only detours to unexpected discoveries.” I have taken that on like a mantra.
Highly educated yet humble, Cynthia Ann Swan speaks as a true creative and intellectual. She took a path within kiln formed glass which her contemporaries did not, and enriches the arts all the more for it.
Within a ‘removed’ community such as Lancaster, it is a joy to see Cynthia Ann Swan holding (and hosting) a space for the arts community to flourish on the outskirts of L.A. County.
Cynthia Ann Swan
Artist webpage/where to book a class:
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